Sunday, May 1, 2011
Fifty one hundred and twenty nine miles from Rome lies a sleepy university town, hewn out of the undergrowth, a place where nature has been encased and and entombed in asphalt and cement, hermetic buildings rise toward the sky, sealed tight and air conditioned so that the university's tens of thousands of stakeholders can breathe and function in comfort, where co-eds from across the nation guzzle beer and shots in orange and blue tanktops, youthful indescretions are commited hourly (if not more frequently) and everyone worships an aligator, even though you would be hard pressed to find one within miles. In short, Gainesville, Florida, home of the Univeristy of Florida, an unlikely oasis, ostensibly of learning, is an anacronism, a completely manmade construct that enables its inhabitants a total disconnect from nature, so they can more readily study and understand the world that we, and they, live in.
But just a few miles outside the center of campus, a small seed from Italy has germinated in central Florida soil. And it is cheerfully embracing its foreign environment, doing its Italian thing with complete appreciation for the differences that Gainesville, that Florida and the rest of this vast, non-Italian country stand for. Toiling solo, with support from his wife Elizabeth, Andrea Tosolini has been pursuing a mission of teaching Americans, one by one, the pleasures of Italian food and the Italian experience of using food to bring people together. He is not seeking to overthrow the established American order, but simply to provide Americans an opportunity to experience the pleasures of the Italian lifestyle as well.
A missionary in true sense of the word, Andrea possesses a zeal and optimism that his efforts -- to get us Americans to slow down and to trust our inner taste buds -- has and will make a difference in people's lives. He believes that the understanding and embracing of pleasure makes peoples' lives better.
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We have known and worked with Andrea for many years now, having met him at the annual Fancy Food Show where gourmet food producers and distributors periodically get together to show their wares. From the outset we were taken with this one man show and his "Fruit of the Boot" Italian gourmet food distribution company. His products were, like the one's we import directly, artisinal - unique, special products with history and tradition, arising from and innately connected to a specific place in the world and there for a specific reason. They were products with stories, rich histories and big personalities that you could taste just as surely as you could taste the freshness of each berry, the crispness of the water, the friutiness of every olive.
The Italians have a word - simpatico. At its base, this adjective means nice - "John is simpatico." But at least to my mind it goes far beyond being simply nice, connoting that the object is somehow in tune with the subject. Just as a tuning fork induces a sympathic vibration in the air around it, someone who is simpatico is someone who possesses something, some quality, that resonates within us. There is a shared humanity, a commonality that makes someone simpatico.
We can truly say that Andrea is simpatico.
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Without going into all the detail of every dish Andrea prepared for us, of every product or ingredient he shared with us during our four hour lunch with him, his lovely wife and their two sweetheart children, let it simply be said that even on the doorstep of the University of FLorida, a place about as far away from Italy as one could imagine, we discovered that it is possible to transport yourself across the Atlantic through food.
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When we arrived in Florida earlier this week to visit my father, our drive from the airport to his home took us past a subdivision called Tuscan Village. With its screened patios with their indoor pools, their low slung Florida style ranch design, their manicured front lawns, driveways dotted with parked cars, we laughed at how far from Tuscany we really were. But thanks to a transplant from Bolzano in Italy's north, we were able to find that magic for a few brief hours. Let's hope this missionary is able to spread his roots and his message throughout this land. Count us in.
Bill and Suzy